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UC Davis Converts Waste Into Clean Energy With Nation's Largest Campus Biodigester

Trash isn't simply trash at the University of California, Davis, it's an important tool to create on clean energy.

The waste-to-power conversion takes place in a large, white tanks on campus, together known as the Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester (READ). UC Davis unveiled the biodigester on Earth Day. Using UC Davis biological and agricultural engineering professor Ruihong Zhang's technology, the university collaborated with Gold River, CA-based CleanWorld to bring it to a commercial scale.

It's the nation's largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus.

“It has been the thrust of my research to bring the innovations we made possible at UC Davis to commercial scale,” said Zhang, who began working on a way to create energy from organic waste more than a decade ago.

“This technology can change the way we manage our solid waste. It will allow us to be more economically and environmentally sustainable. I am proud and grateful to be a part of the team who helped make this moment a reality." 

The biodigester is located at campus' now-closed landfill. The system uses generators to convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable electricity each day, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. It is the third commercial biodigester CleanWorld has opened using Zhang’s technology. Zhang serves as the chief technology advisor for CleanWorld.

Inside these tanks on the UC Davis campus, organic waste is converted into clean energy. Photo credit: UC Davis.

Inside the oxygen-deprived tanks, bacterial microbes convert the university's food and yard waste into clean energy that feeds the campus electrical grid. The biodigester creates 5.6 million kWh per year of electricity. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13,500 tons per year. Making use of the former landfill location, the process uses the methane created from the waste to help convert the waste into renewable energy.

“The biodigester is the latest chapter in UC Davis’ world-renowned legacy of environmental sustainability,” said Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis.

“This project stands as a model public-private partnership and demonstrates what can be achieved when research universities and private industry collaborate to address society’s most pressing challenges.”

 

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